think you know it all. Well, Theodore, you’ve got a long

time:2023-12-04 04:57:50source:iosedit:zop

For the real North of that day we must turn to those Northerners who felt sufficient unto themselves and whose political convictions were unbiased by personal interests which were involved in other parts of the country. We must listen to the distinct voices that gave utterance to their views, and we must observe the definite schemes of their political leaders. Directly we do this, the fact stares us in the face that the North had become a democracy. The rich man no longer played the role of grandee, for by this time there had arisen those two groups which, between them, are the ruin of aristocracy--the class of prosperous laborers and the group of well-to-do intellectuals. Of these, the latter gave utterance, first, to their faith in democracy, and then, with all the intensity of partisan zeal, to their sense of the North as the agent of democracy. The prosperous laborers applauded this expression of anopinion in which they thoroughly believed and at the same time gave their willing support to a land policy that was typically Northern.

think you know it all. Well, Theodore, you’ve got a long

American economic history in the middle third of the century is essentially the record of a struggle to gain possession of public land. The opposing forces were the South, which strove to perpetuate by this means a social system that was fundamentally aristocratic, and the North, which sought by the same means to foster its ideal of democracy. Though the South, with the aid of its economic vassal, the Northern capitalist class, was for some time able to check the land-hunger of the Northern democrats, it was never able entirely to secure the control which it desired, but was always faced with the steady and continued opposition of the real North. On one occasion in Congress, the heart of the whole matter was clearly shown, for at the very moment when the Northerners of the democratic class were pressing one of their frequent schemes for free land, Southerners and their sympathetic Northern henchmen were furthering a scheme that aimed at the purchase of Cuba. From the impatient sneer of a Southerner that the Northerners sought to give "land to the landless" and the retort that the Southerners seemed equally anxious to supply "niggers to the niggerless," it can be seen that American history is sometimes better summed up by angry politicians than by historians.

think you know it all. Well, Theodore, you’ve got a long

We must be on our guard, however, against ascribing to either side too precise a consciousness of its own motives. The old days when the American Civil War was conceived as a clear-cut issue are as a watch in the night that has passed, and we now realize that historical movements are almost without exception the resultants of many motives. We have come to recognize that men have always misapprehended themselves, contradicted themselves, obeyed primal impulses, and then deluded themselves with sophistications upon the springs of action. In a word, unaware of what they are doing, men allow their aesthetic and dramatic senses to shape their conceptions of their own lives.

think you know it all. Well, Theodore, you’ve got a long

That "great impersonal artist," of whom Matthew Arnold has so much to say, is at work in us all, subtly making us into illusions, first to ourselves and later to the historian. It is the business of history, as of analytic fiction, both to feel the power of these illusions and to work through them in imagination to the dim but potent motives on which they rest. We are prone to forget that we act from subconscious quite as often as from conscious influences, from motives that arise out of the dim parts of our being, from the midst of shadows that psychology has only recently begun to lift, where senses subtler than the obvious make use of fear, intuition, prejudice, habit, and illusion, and too often play with us as the wind with blown leaves.

True as this is of man individually, it is even more fundamentally true of man collectively, of parties, of peoples. It is a strikingly accurate description of the relation of the two American nations that now found themselves opposed within the Republic. Neither fully understood the other. Each had a social ideal that was deeper laid than any theory of government or than any commercial or humanitarian interest. Both knew vaguely but with sure instinct that their interests and ideals were irreconcilable. Each felt in its heart the deadly passion of self-preservation. It was because, in both North and South, men were subtly conscious that a whole social system was the issue at stake, and because on each side they believed in their own ideals with their whole souls, that, when the time came for their trial by fire, they went to their deaths singing.

In the South there still obtained the ancient ideal of territorial aristocracy. Those long traditions of the Western European peoples which had made of the great landholder a petty prince lay beneath the plantation life of the Southern States. The feudal spirit, revived in a softer world and under brighter skies, gave to those who participated in it the same graces and somewhat the same capacities which it gave to the knightly class in the days of Roland--courage, frankness, generosity, ability in affairs, a sense of responsibility, the consciousness of caste. The mode of life which the planters enjoyed and which the inferior whites regarded as a social paradise was a life of complete deliverance from toil, of disinterested participation in local government, of absolute personal freedom--a life in which the mechanical action of law was less important than the more human compulsion of social opinion, and in which private differences were settled under the code of honor.

This Southern life was carried on in the most appropriate environment. On a landed estate, often larger than many of Europe's baronies, stood the great house of the planter, usually a graceful example of colonial architecture, surrounded by stately gardens. This mansion was the center of a boundless hospitality; guests were always coming and going; the hostess and her daughters were the very symbols of kindliness and ease. To think of such houses was to think of innumerable joyous days; of gentlemen galloping across country after the hounds; of coaches lumbering along avenues of noble oaks, bringing handsome women to visit the mansion; of great feastings; of nights of music and dancing; above all, of the great festival of Christmas, celebrated much as had been the custom in "Merrie England" centuries before.

Below the surface of this bright world lay the enslaved black race. In the minds of many Southerners--it was always a secret burden from which they saw no means of freeing themselves. To emancipate the slaves, and thereby to create a population of free blacks, was generally considered, from the white point of view, an impossible solution of the problem. The Southerners usually believed that the African could be tamed only in small groups and when constantly surrounded by white influence, as in the case of house servants. Though a few great capitalists had taken up the idea that the deliberate exploitation of the blacks was the high prerogative of the whites, the general sentiment of the Southern people was more truly expressed by Toombs when he said: "The question is not whether we could be more prosperous and happy with these three and a half million slaves in Africa, and their places filled with an equal number of hardy, intelligent, and enterprising citizens of the superior race; but it is simply whether, while we have them among us, we would be most prosperous with them in freedom or in bondage."


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